Healthy food swap tips and healthy meal planning

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can seem like a big challenge, but it doesn't have to be. Hannah has listed 6 easy and effective ways to swap healthier foods into your diet.

Parmesan & Oat Crusted Chicken

One of our delicious lower calorie recipes. This Parmesan & Oat Crusted Chicken is part of our Lower Calorie Suppers meal plan for 2.

My husband has been on a serious health kick recently. Just fruit for breakfast, no lunch, a healthy evening meal and absolutely no snacking. He’s doing this six days a week (not Sundays) and he’s running three nights a week. He’s kept it up for six weeks and lost a bundle of weight.

“These small changes can make a real difference to your health and weight.”He was reminded of his mortality by a very poignant Paul Whitehouse advert for Aviva’s life insurance - the one where his family are getting ready to go on holiday (you can watch it here at youtube if you’re wondering what I’m on about!). We see Paul Whitehouse out and about in Angel - browsing CDs at the HMV store or having a coffee at Tinderbox and these reminders are keeping hubby spurred on. He’s keen to get down to a healthy weight for an early middle aged man and stay there for as long as possible.

It’s going to be my job to keep him at that healthy weight. I’m going to be using our healthy eating meal plans of course, but we’ve also been debating which smaller changes to his diet and lifetstyle could make a worthwhile difference to his general health and maintaining his optimum weight.

Here are 6 easy food swap tips that seem to have the potential to make a difference to his lifestyle, help him maintain his optimum weight and still eat the food he loves, at least some of the time.

1. Breakfast

He’s agreed not to skip breakfasts (a bad habit of his). It’s the most important meal of the day and a good breakfast should set him up for the day. He’s going to swap his less healthy, preferred brand of cereal (which shall remain nameless, but this applies to cornflakes, rice cereals, puffed cereals made with highly refined grains, and anything sugar coated) for unrefined wholegrain cereals that are not sugar coated: porridge oats, Weetabix, Shredded Wheat and muesli, etc. They’re packed full of fibre and are a slow release food: ideal for keeping him going for longer so he’s less likely to reach for a snack between meals.

2. Bread

Like cereal it's going to be wholegrain bread for hubby from now on. Refined white bread has very little nutrition and should be avoided but he’s tended to go for ‘brown-ish’ breads that are nearly as bad (studded with grains for flavour, but still relying on highly refined flours). He’s generally kept away from wholemeal, which, like the whole grain cereals, is his best bet nutritionally and in terms of energy release. If you’re trying to avoid snacks and get the best complexity of nutrients from bread, then whether you make your own sandwiches or buy them from the shops, go for bread made from wholegrain wheat flour because they will make you feel satisfied for longer.

3. Dairy

Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt are great sources of calcium but are also high in fat. Calcium is stored in the non fat part of milk therefore choosing lower fat won’t affect his intake. As a comparison, 100ml of milk of different types contains these significantly different amounts of energy to be burnt off: whole (64kcal), semi-skimmed (49kcal) and skimmed (35kcal), so he can really cut down his calorie intake by swapping to semi-skimmed or skimmed on your cereal. Rice milk (47kcal/100ml) a good source of calcium and unsweetened soya milk (32kcal/100ml) is high in protein are both low fat alternatives. Soya milk is naturally low in saturated fat and naturally lowers cholesterol whilst rice milk is cholesterol free but both are lactose free which makes it easier to digest. Shockingly we calculated that his two large lattes a day from Nero (who don’t do skimmed milk, just semi skimmed) will save him a whopping 28,000 calories this year. If his lattes were being made with whole milk, switching to skimmed would have saved him 60,000 calories this year. To put that in perspective, that’s equivalent to 36 twenty minute runs for a man of his weight running twelve minute miles!

For tea and coffee drinkers swapping regular caffeine fixes along these lines can be amazingly good for your figure: Instead of a Latte with whole milk (158kcals) swap for Cappuccino with semi skimmed milk (92kcals) or Cappuccino with skimmed milk (69kcals). Instead of tea with whole milk (96kcals) swap for tea with semi-skimmed milk (84kcals) or with skimmed milk (82kcals). Better still swapping to herbal tea (2.3kcals) and green tea (0kcals) would reduce your calories intake dramatically.

For cheese, instead of cheddar (410kcal) go for hard cheeses such as Gouda (362kcal), Edam (318kcal), Dutch cheese (235kcal) and low fat cottage cheese (75kcal). Swap regular yogurts for low fat varieties and natural Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt contains less sugar and is high in protein. You can always add a handful of fruit and muesli to make it more interesting.

4. Snacking

There is nothing wrong with snacking as long as what your choose to eat is a healthy alternative to crisps, biscuits, chocolate and other junk food that has no nutritional value. Sadly, hubby’s tastes tend to gravitate towards exactly the wrong type of snacks! Fruit and vegetables can make a great snack and counts towards one of the 5-A-Day portions. Healthier choices like apple, banana, celery, carrots dried fruit and nut mix are great alternatives for snacking between meals. Oatcakes, rice cakes and popcorn are also good low calories alternatives too. My husband seems keenest on the popcorn of all these alternatives, but nuts are going down well too. They can be very fattening and more-ish though, so I’m in charge of portion control!

5. Spreads

Butter tastes great but it contains unhealthy saturated fats which should be avoided. If you want be healthy go for healthier spreads such as olive oil spread that contain polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats but avoid any vegetables spreads that contain unhealthy trans fats. My husband is mad keen on butter, but has actually found this change an easy one to make. He finds it easier to identify a pure fat product with a health risk even though he loves the taste. He’s made the switch to a half fat alternative made with butter, healthy vegetable oils and water.

6. Meat

Meat is a good source of protein, iron and other nurtients that your body requires to build and maintain muscle. White meat like chicken and turkey have less fat than red meat. You should avoid eating too much processed meat such as bacon, sausages, hams etc. particularly poorer quality products that rely on salt and other agents to maintain taste and appeal. Trim off any excess fat from your meat to keep your waistline trim and maintain a healthy heart. I’ve agreed with my husband that we will skip meat in some meals (not a problem – he was vegetarian when we met) and generally have smaller portions of meat. This tip’s good for the wallet, as well as the waistline. Generally, portion control is a good discipline to maintaining your optimum weight. People tend to overeat and it's quite easy to pile on the pounds if you consistently overeat at every meal all the time. Reducing your portion size is the best way to reduce calories intake. You can still enjoy a meal that is high in calories by eating a smaller portion. A good rule of thumb for a meat portion is that it should not be bigger than your palm.

Finally, cook healthier meals and keep an eye on those calorie counts!

Here’s a selection of our best lower-calorie meal plans and recipes. Remember that as your meal planning you can check the calorie count for that weeks meal plan at the bottom of the page.

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